By Dara Kennedy and Manfredi Ricca
As Emma and Rachel wrote in their last post about the celebrity apocalypse, the tragic suicide of Lee Alexander McQueen first shook a saddened fashion world and then left it speculating on the future of the brand. While it is no easy task to contemplate the next steps without the visionary at the helm, the brand must now consider its options.
The challenge with Alexander McQueen is that he had become a uniquely strong personality in the fashion world (standing out in a sea of strong personalities). As WWD stated, he evolved “from traditional tailor to fashion iconoclast and consummate showman.” This makes managing the next steps particularly tough, as the person behind McQueen was driving the desire and demand of the brand as much as the style. And yet, while McQueen’s big personality may have helped to drive the brand, many believe that his unique production also stands on its own. If this is indeed the case, this uniqueness can be picked up, cultivated and revived by a new thinker and creator—and will eventually ensure the brand’s survival.
However, before those managing the brand go ahead and begin pulling McQueen the individual apart from McQueen the brand, they need to let some period of time pass. To transition McQueen to another designer very quickly (whether the designer in question is an established bad-boy like John Galliano or a similarly iconoclastic young upstart) would be a mistake. The brand would struggle with retaining its authenticity. Even Karl Lagerfeld didn’t take the helm at Chanel until more than 10 years after Coco’s death.
In the meantime, the best path forward may be to follow the lead of successful high-end beauty brands Bumble and bumble and MAC. These two brands have successfully created a buffer of sorts between the brand and the end consumer by cultivating a passionate group of professional devotees – makeup artists and hairstylists who truly believe in the brands, but appreciate the opportunity they have to interpret the products these brands offer through their own creative skills.
PPR’s Gucci Group, Alexander McQueen’s parent, can work with McQueen’s team to select a group of young designers who greatly admire Lee Alexander’s work and are committed to carrying his legacy forward by preserving the integrity of his philosophy, but who can interpret it in a fresh way. Perhaps that group of young designers changes and evolves relatively quickly, allowing many young designers to have their time in the group spotlight. The Alexander McQueen brand is then still about Lee Alexander; however, it’s now about Lee Alexander leaving behind not only his inspired designs and razor-sharp tailoring, but also an opportunity for young designers, like him, to follow in his footsteps.
Regardless of which direction it chooses, the McQueen brand will have to proceed with caution, making sure to preserve McQueen’s vision at every step. Luxury is, in the end, about DNA - a unique code at the basis of the brands’ existence and prosperity from one generation to the other. Luxury brands survive their namesakes when the latter has managed to pass their DNA on to their creations. When that doesn't happen, then that unique, inimitable DNA disappears forever with the namesake – and what remains is simply a soulless body.